Chromebooks bucking the PC market's downward trend

Acer Google Chromebook laptop. (Google)

Acer Google Chromebook laptop. (Google)

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, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

At a time when consumers are turning their backs on Windows in favour of tablets, the low-cost, cloud-centric notebooks are growing in popularity, especially in the U.S.

According to ABI Research's latest data, some 2.1 million Chromebooks shipped in 2013 and that figure is expected to jump to 11 million annually within the next five years.

One of the reasons for their surging popularity could be their price. Although the range of Chromebooks available and the number of manufacturers building them is growing all the time, their prices remain constant. A consumer can snap one up for as little as $200 US in the shape of the Acer C70 Chromebook.

Back in July, NPD Group noted how the price point was really helping Chromebooks to establish themselves in the U.S. to the point where they had become the fastest-growing computer segment in the country -- representing 20-25% of the sub-$300 notebook market.

And as the devices are becoming available in other countries, their popularity is continuing to grow, not only with budget-conscious consumers, but within academia and business too.

"ABI Research tracked Chromebooks across six regions and found the average selling price (ASP) to be $338," says research analyst Stephanie Van Vactor. "This truly budget-driven device is a disruptive force to the portable PC market."

The company also notes that over the same period, it saw demand for ultraportable and convertible computers remain more or less stagnant.

So why are Chromebooks growing in appeal while other computers, with the exception of Apple's Mac range (which continues to build its market share), are struggling for sales?

Although their affordability is very attractive, what sets Chromebooks apart from other notebooks is that they rely pretty much entirely on the Internet and cloud services.

Because all of the processing and "heavy lifting" is done in the cloud, the computers are very, very fast as their processors are under minimal strain. They can boot up in a matter of seconds and because none of the software is stored on the device, it is essentially immune from computer viruses. And, of course they plug seamlessly into all of Google's other services from Gmail to Google Drive and cloud storage system.

And it is this focus on the cloud that ABI Research believes will continue to make a difference over the coming years. Consumers are increasingly moving to online storage and apps, and Chromebooks have a head start over other Windows-powered PCs.

"There are many events that can shift the market in 2014, including the EOL of Windows XP, the adoption of Chromebooks, and a stronger focus on web and cloud services," adds senior practice director Jeff Orr. "How consumers and business audiences respond to these changes will impact the trajectory of the market."


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